The most important aspect of any hotel is not its architecture. Rather, it’s the people who act out their lives inside its parameters. This is certainly the case with The Thief, Norway’s high-end contemporary art hotel, opened in January. With its arrival, Oslo has been given an eagerly awaited stage where celebrities, regular citizens and visitors alike can bask in its glamour and world-class art and design.
A meeting with Petter Stordalen, Norway’s ebullient, charismatic billionaire hotel tycoon, goes a long way toward explaining the Thief’s modus operandi. At 50, he transmits an almost childlike enthusiasm for life and business. His hotel openings (The Thief is number 171 in his stable) are spectacular, over-the-top circus shows, completely contrary to sober Scandinavian social codes.
Despite the paint having barely dried on the walls, The Thief exudes character, and its art is one of the main reasons. The hotel’s exceptional collection was curated by Sune Nordgren, former director of Norway’s National Museum of Art, who hand-picked original artworks for each of the 119 rooms and the communal areas, choosing a mix of renowned and upcoming talents from Norway and abroad. Find every excuse to use the hotel’s two main elevators: inside, you will be delighted by colourful animated films by British artist Julian Opie, created exclusively for the hotel. Also, because Stordalen is a private sponsor of the new Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, located next door, the hotel can exhibit some of the museum’s prominent works.
The Thief is named for its location on Tjuvholmen (“the thief’s islet” ), an enclave with an illicit past, now connected to the mainland; public hangings are said to have taken place there as recently as 1730. This brand new fjord-side neighbourhood now hosts wealthy, design-conscious residents, a wave of contemporary architecture, several art galleries and top-notch restaurants.
The nine-storey hotel, designed by Mellbye Architects, maintains its own identity while blending into the modern urban fabric. The faceted facade has a sculptural quality, derived from its projecting triangular balconies with nearly invisible glass railings. All of the rooms have full-height windows, to take advantage of daylight and views of the Oslo Fjord, the island’s canals or the art museum.
Inside the hotel, you won’t find classic Scandinavian minimalism. But neither is it full of nouveau riche gold taps and other style trappings. While the glitter is abundant, interior designer Anemone Wille Våge has kept things on the right side of good taste. Her dark, warm palette, with wood and abundant gold accents, was inspired by the maritime look of classic Riva yachts. A collaboration with the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture to showcase objects by upcoming Norwegian designers adds to the hotel’s sense of place and local heritage.
Petter Stordalen has been an environmental activist for years, famously chaining himself to a British nuclear plant in 2002. His wife, Gunhild Stordalen – a physician, model and prominent environmentalist – heads up the hotel group’s social responsibility activities, and is one of several partners working for sustainability in the hotel’s operations. Up-to-date technological solutions and reduced water and energy consumption, as well as the restaurant’s focus on regional ingredients, contribute to the hotel’s environmental profile.
For Oslo, the revitalization of Tjuvholmen marks a new era in which it begins to seriously embrace its amazing location on the fjord. If you visit The Thief in summer, bring your swimming gear: an urban beach has been established right around the corner.
IF YOU GO
Things to do
The Holmenkollen ski jump features a viewing platform with incredible panoramas of Oslo and the surrounding forests. The structure itself is a sleek visual delight designed by Julien De Smedt Architects of Denmark. holmenkollen.com
Going to Oslo without seeing Snøhetta’s shimmering opera house would be a sin. Performances are world class and relatively inexpensive, but you can also enjoy the building by just wandering across its slanted roof. operaen.no
The cool hipster neighbourhood of Grünerløkka offers plenty of independent shops and cafés, great for people-watching.
Where to Eat
Ekebergrestauranten, a functionalist gem completed in 1929, is the perfect setting for an open-air lunch, or a formal dinner with Oslo and the fjord as a backdrop. ekebergrestauranten.com
If you’re a serious foodie, book well ahead at the prestigious, innovative Maaemo restaurant, which exploded onto the international gourmet scene when it debuted in the Michelin guide with two stars. maaemo.no
For a more traditional Old Europe atmosphere, visit Theatercaféen, a charming eatery that
opened its doors in 1900. hotelcontinental.no/theatercafeen
Where to Shop
If Viking-themed souvenirs are not your thing, head straight to Pur Norsk, a unique store that focuses on modern interior objects by Norwegian designers. purnorsk.no
Besides serving gourmet coffee and drinks, Fuglen is known for its selection of quirky and beautiful design treasures, predominantly from the ’50s and ’60s. fuglen.no
For premium streetwear and contemporary art, Hunting Lodge, in Grünerløkka, has been described as one of the coolest stores in Oslo. huntinglodge.no
→ Rooms from $300. thethief.com